Hamas accepts US proposal on talks over Israeli hostages 16 days after first phase, Hamas source says

MONITORING (SW) – Hamas has accepted a U.S. proposal to begin talks on releasing Israeli hostages, including soldiers and men, 16 days after the first phase of an agreement aimed at ending the Gaza war, a senior Hamas source told Reuters on Saturday.

The militant Islamist group has dropped a demand that Israel first commit to a permanent ceasefire before signing the agreement, and would allow negotiations to achieve that throughout the six-week first phase, the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

A Palestinian official close to the internationally mediated peace efforts had said the proposal could lead to a framework agreement if embraced by Israel and would end the nine-month-old war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

A source in Israel’s negotiating team, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was now a real chance of achieving agreement. That was in sharp contrast to past instances in the nine-month-old war in Gaza, when Israel said conditions attached by Hamas were unacceptable.

A spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. On Friday his office said talks would continue next week and emphasized that gaps between the sides still remained, Reuters said.

The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 38,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, since Hamas attacked southern Israeli cities on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostages, according to official Israeli figures.

The new proposal ensures that mediators would guarantee a temporary ceasefire, aid delivery and the withdrawal of Israeli troops as long as indirect talks continue to implement the second phase of the agreement, the Hamas source said.

Efforts to secure a ceasefire and hostage release in Gaza have intensified over the past few days with active shuttle diplomacy among Washington, Israel and Qatar, which is leading mediation efforts from Doha, where the exiled Hamas leadership is based.

A regional source said the U.S. administration was trying hard to secure a deal before the presidential election in November.

Netanyahu said on Friday that the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency had returned from an initial meeting with mediators in Qatar and that negotiations would continue next week.